cover image Open Closed Open

Open Closed Open

Yehuda Amichai, Amichai. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $28 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-15-100378-5

Constructing a lineage in which to place himself, Amichai begins these verses of personal and cultural history with a stone from a destroyed Jewish graveyard; and moves on to enact the story of David, recall poems by Ibn Ezra, and even consider Jesus as an instance of ""Jewish Travel."" Within this vast context, the 25 longish poems of the collection, originally written in Hebrew, offer everyday acts of alternately joyous and somber reverence for God, ""with the same body/ that stoops to pick up a fallen something from the floor."" Amichai, who emigrated to Palestine in 1936 and is now 76, places imagined Holocaust memories (""I wasn't among the six million who died in the Shoah./ I wasn't even among the survivors"") adjacent to irreverent reconfigurations of Torah characters, investigates ""The Language of Love and Tea with Roasted Almonds,"" and asks ""Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Why Jerusalem."" The English-only text is generally well-rendered by poet Bloch and Hebrew scholar Kronfeld, but the rhymes can show jingly signs of strain: ""Our father Jacob, on the beaten track/ carries a ladder on his back// like a window washer to the VIPs./ He does God's windows, if you please."" Despite the moments of levity, mortality dominates each anecdote, whether it be a story of romantic, familial or ancestral love: ""The memorial forest where we made love/ burned down in a great conflagration// but the two of us stayed alive and in love in memory of the burnt ones the forest remembered."" The book becomes more personally confessional as it progresses (poem 22 is titled ""My Son Was Drafted""), as the poet reminisces on his youth, first love and adoration of children. Death, finally, becomes a form of remembrance, where ""not even a single act of remembering will seep in/ and disturb memory's eternal rest."" This is a searching late book from a writer who acknowledges the high stakes of writing and of life as lived daily. (Apr.)